Sunday, January 11, 2009

Getting to Collaboration

Last week, I said we were going to learn to conduct both Advocacy discussions and “Hard” Collaborative discussions with the aim of converting them to “Soft” Collaborative discussions. We want to do this because a “Soft” collaborative discussions are 1) most useful in getting input from all participants and, 2) least destructive (most supportive) of the relationships with the people involved. I also mentioned that we are going to learn to do this unilaterally, meaning we will be the only one in the discussion that is consciously guiding it towards this end. If there is someone that is helping, so much the better – but we won’t count on it because we can’t.

To begin with, recognize that doing this is a form of “leading from within” – leading without being a formal leader. In this effort, our objective as the leader is singular; get all the information on the topic out on the table so that we can examine it, critique it, and use it to make the best possible decision. The difficult part in doing this is that, for more reasons than we can count, people are reluctant to share information unless they feel it is safe to do so. Our main job, therefore, is to create safety. If we fail to do that, the people with whom we are speaking will not be able to share.

We have been trained since kindergarten in NOT sharing information, and we have received NO training in creating safety, so the odds are stacked against us UNTIL we learn how to create and maintain an environment in which people feel safe. Fortunately, there are lots of easy techniques to do it. The most important thing is to develop your own personal mindset that seeks to be collaborative and supports others in doing so. In this series, I will describe in detail what that mindset consists of and how to express it.

Not today though. Today, there are just a few things that I want you to get your head wrapped around; things that challenge the way you look at participating in these discussions.

It is a process of guiding people through the model for content exchange that we discussed in the last series of newsletters (9/26/2008 – 12/29/2008). Remember that in that model, we start by understanding and making clear what the controversy is about (we make the resolution explicit). Then we make (and ask for) claims, raise issues, offer evidence, and supply and weigh inference. So how will we lead from within? We will behave as if they know the model, and when they fail to perform as the model would dictate (e.g., they fail to ask for evidence) then we will do it for them. I know it sounds crazy, but it will start to become clear in a moment.

First, I want you to understand the objective of the collaborative conversation. There are 3 acceptable objectives for these conversations; 1) to understand the other person’s point of view (this should ALWAYS be your primary objective), 2) to express your point of view to the other person so that they understand it, and 3) to troubleshoot or come to a mutual understanding about something (in which case we have to do the first two).

The exchange is not complex, but it is different than usual because it is about building safety FIRST. We want to understand the other person’s perspective. We want to be curious about it. We want to understand it the way an interviewer wants to understand the inner thoughts of a politician or celebrity – NOT to compare them with ours, but to understand THEM - fully. We want to ask questions (remember the 3 ways to formulate issues?). We want to offer thoughts that support their perspective (to offer supporting evidence and strengthen inferences). We then may want to express OUR perspective. We will follow the rules for exchanging content and offer evidence and inference. We will ask them about the weaknesses in OUR idea. We will ensure that they understand our position. We will then discuss the differences in our two perspectives. We will talk a lot about this technique over the next few weeks, but for now understand that we will build safety and trust.

To illustrate how we know that this objective is achieved, I want you to recall a time when you took a position that you were CONFIDENT was right. You felt very sure that you are on the right side of the issue, and then you found a piece of information that indicated you were wrong. I want you to remember that as clearly as you can, in that it is very instructive in learning how to conduct a collaborative discussion. You are on a hunt for THAT piece of information – “What would indicate that we are on the wrong track? How can we find it? Let’s look everywhere for it”. This is the purpose for raising issues, questioning inference, evaluating evidence, all of it – because we want to know if we are on the wrong track and get OFF of it as soon as we can. We want that “A-HA” moment as soon and as often as we can get it. Once we exhaust those pieces of information, we can be on the right track. You may recall that this is the opposite of an Advocacy discussion, in which we hide information that subverts our position. Here we want to subvert ALL positions as soon as we can and get to the one that is most sound. Then we have a collective win.

I also want you to remember that, until you got that piece of information, your analysis of all the other data led you to a wrong conclusion. In other words, that you are fallible. If you can remember that, then you can accept that it is appropriate to be tentative and humble, rather than arrogant or even bold. When you are in a collaborative discussion, there can be lots of wrong positions. Since you are trying to build safety, you have to make it possible for someone to be wrong and not lose face. You need to make it possible for someone to disagree. Boldness and arrogance work against that – tentativeness and humility work in favor. There is a lot to building safety that we will cover in the coming weeks, but this is the starting place.

In closing for this week, I want you to remember is that it is NOT a requirement that we settle an issue in one conversation. I can’t tell you the number of times I sit in a meeting with 10 minutes left and someone raises an interesting, but complex, issue. The natural inclination is to try to settle it in the time remaining in that meeting. Fight that urge. Recognize that it is unlikely to reach an adequately vetted position and properly supported decision on anything of complexity in one conversation. Fight the urge to shortcut the process. It needn’t take a long time, either. My experience is that I have seen more harm caused by discussing too little than delays caused by discussing too much.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: